Top Athletes of the Year in 2015

Another exciting year of sports is coming to an end in Pacific Palisades and it’s time to look back at some of the local athletes who inspired us with their heart, desire and skill in 2015…

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin

When it comes to basketball, is there a more exciting player to watch than Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin?

The Riviera resident was chosen to start for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York City last season, but was unable to play due to a staph infection in his right elbow. He still played in 67 games, averaging 21.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while leading the Clippers to second-place in the Pacific Division.

Griffin is off to an even better start this season, playing all 29 games and averaging 23.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists, but perhaps his best assist came over the summer when he helped coax his Palisadian pal DeAndre Jordan to renege on his verbal agreement with Dallas and re-sign with the Clippers.

Also making an impact on the hardwood was Palisades High’s Bianca King, whose stellar post play earned her Western League MVP and All-City first team honors and spearheaded the girls’ 20-game winning streak that culminated in the section’s inaugural Open Division championship. Chelsey Gipson was an All-City first team choice and fellow guard Kayla Merrill-Gillett made the second team.

Joseph Robinson led the Pali High boys squad in scoring and was voted first-team All-League and second-team All-City after helping the Dolphins net the No. 1 seed in the Division I playoffs. Robinson and fellow guard Will Johnson made the All-Division I team.

Grace Koplin and her Los Angeles Ice Theater team represented the United States at the Nations Cup in France. Photo courtesy of Jill Lawrence
Grace Koplin

At the youth level, Anthony Spencer could have a bright future ahead of him. He was the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Westside 14U boys basketball team that won the gold medal at the Maccabi Games in Florida.

No local swimmer made a bigger splash than 21-year-old Jordan Wilimovsky of Sunset Mesa, who qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio by clocking 1:49:48.2 to win the men’s 10K open water race at the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia – becoming only the second American to win the 10K world title.

In April, Wilimovsky foreshadowed that performance by defeating 2012 Olympian Alex Meyer by more than 12 seconds to win the Open Water National Championships for the second year in a row. An All-American at Northwestern, he was the Big Ten champion in the 1,650 freestyle and broke school records in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle races.

Peter Ling led St. Matthew’s to fourth place in the Pacific Basin League swim championships (winning the 25-yard butterfly in 14.80 seconds, taking second in the 25-yard backstroke and swimming the butterfly leg in the 200 medley relay. He also was also a wide receiver, running back and kick returner on the Falcons’ 8th-grade flag football team, which won the league championship.

Mardell Ramirez was the top scorer for the Pali High water polo team and also led the Dolphins to the City swim title. Photo: Steve Galluzzo
Mardell Ramirez

Mardell Ramirez and Zach Senator simply ruled the pool at Pali High. Ramirez was the Dolphins’ most prolific scorer in water polo, leading the girls to the championship game, and in swimming she anchored the Dolphins’ record-setting 400 freestyle relay, won the 100 freestyle, took second in the 100 backstroke and swam the first leg of the winning 200 medley relay at City finals.

Senator competed in multiple events while leading the boys to their third City swim title in a row and was named team MVP for the water polo squad, which won the section title for a record fourth straight year.

Sophomore Kian Brouwer won the 100 butterfly in 50.35 seconds and the 200 freestyle in 1:41.10 and joined Senator on Palisades’ 400 freestyle relay that broke a 31-year-old City finals record. Earlier this month, Brouwer represented Westside Aquatics at the Speedo Short Course Junior Nationals in Texas.

Masters swimmer Hubie Kerns proved that age is no barrier by taking first place in the 25-yard freestyle in 12.47 seconds (65-69 age group) at the Matt Biondi SCY Classic in March and adding four runner-up finishes at the YMCA Masters Nationals in May.

In tennis, Pali High junior Ben Goldberg captained the Dolphins to their record seventh consecutive City championship, then captured the Individual singles title. He also won the Boys 18s singles title at the USTA Regional Mike Agassi “No Quit” Championships in Las Vegas.

Whitney Yost
Whitney Yost

Pali High teammates RJ and Jake Sands also excelled on the court.  Jake was second in singles and doubles at the National Selection B16 Tournament in Stockton, went unbeaten in singles and doubles in the No. 1 position at the Zonal Team Championships in Salt Lake City and  placed fifth at the USTA Boys 16s Singles National Selection Tennis Tournament in Aptos. RJ won the So Cal Junior Championships (Ventura County) Boys 18 Division title, won the Boys 16s singles title at the Dudley Cup Junior Open in Santa Monica and placed ninth at the Boys 18s USTA Open Regional Championships in Arizona.

After turning 15, Roscoe Bellamy started his international career with a runner-up finish at the Boys 18s championships in Oslo, Norway and was second again at an event in Kramfors, Sweden. As a sophomore at Pali High, Roscoe’s brother Lucas won the Racquet Centre Spring Open in Burbank.

Two rising stars on the junior tennis circuit are William Schwartzman, who won USTA singles titles in the Boys 10s division at the Santa Monica Junior Open, the Irvine Summer Open Classic and the Calabasas Junior Open; and Jack McGary, who won three straight Boys 10s singles titles – the West Coast Junior Open, the South Bay Tennis Club Open and the Beverly Hills Tennis Club Tournament – and also led the Palisades Tennis Center’s U10 Waves to the Section title.

Madeline Prins and Lizzie Belokonnyi captained Pali High’s girls tennis squad to its third straight City crown, then partnered to repeat as Individual doubles champions. Sophomore teammate Caroline Vincent won the singles title.

Brentwood School junior Grace Danco won the Gold Conference singles championship for the second year in a row.

Brentwood quarterback Holden Thomas threw for 3,107 yards and 36 touchdowns and ran for three more scores in leading the Eagles to the Southern Section Mid-Valley Division playoffs./ Photo: Ken Carlson
Holden Thomas

In football, Pali High quarterback P.J. Hurst earned All-City honors for the second straight season after throwing for 2,065 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing for 707 yards and nine touchdowns. He also won the Joe Spector Award as team MVP for the second straight year.

Nevada-bound linebacker Alec Simpson led the team with 82 tackles, defensive tackle Willy Rosenfeld earned All-City honors with 22 tackles for losses and Quinn Perry was named the All-City punter with a 41.9-yard average.

Meanwhile, Brentwood secured a berth in the Mid-Valley Division playoffs thanks to the accurate arm of senior Holden Thomas, who passed for 3,107 yards and 36 touchdowns, ran for three more scores and posted a quarterback rating of 103.5.

On the college gridiron, former Harvard-Westlake High quarterback Chad Kanoff had a breakthrough year at Princeton, throwing for 2,295 yards and eight touchdowns. Former Pali High signal-caller Taylor Mensik played in three games for Pomona-Pitzer, throwing for 707 yards and four touchdowns.

Loyola High libero Matt Douglas was named Mission League Player of the Year and made the AVCA All-America team./ Photo: Darryl Washburn
Matt Douglas

Kenny Jones captured the City heavyweight wrestling title on his way to winning the Post Cup Award at Pali High in the spring and was a starting defensive lineman on Santa Monica College’s undefeated football team in the fall.

Just 13 days after signing with the New Orleans Saints in mid-October, NFL placekicker Kai Forbath booted a 50-yard field goal as time expired to beat the New York Giants at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Palisades native Chris Conte signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay in March and has started 13 of the Buccaneers’ 14 games at safety, recording 59 solo tackles, 20 assisted tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Pali High alumn Mitchell Schwartz has been a stalwart in Cleveland this season, starting all 14 games at offensive tackle for the Browns. His older brother Geoff played 11 games at right guard for the New York Giants before being placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken leg in Week 12 against Washington.

Marissa Williams capped off her brilliant prep career by shattering the City finals records in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, then shaving a full eight seconds off her personal-best time to place second in the 1,600 by 55 hundredths of a second at the state track finals in Clovis. Two hours later the Pali High senior passed eight runners on the bell lap to take third in the 3,200. She won the Post Cup Award in June and made the All-Pac-12 cross country second team as a freshman at California.

Marissa Williams won the City 1,600 and 3,200 meter titles for the fourth time and was state runner-up in both events. Photo: Steve Galluzzo
Marissa Williams

Marcellus Cole won the City shot put title, then played offensive line for the Santa Monica College football team, which finished the season 11-0.

When it came to sheer versatility, perhaps no Pali High athlete compared to Whitney Yost, who placed 27th out of 53 entrants in the heptathlon at the AAU Junior Olympics in Virginia.

Yost began the two-day competition clocking a personal-best 16.96 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles. She cleared four feet, seven inches in the high jump, placed 14th in the shot put with a throw of 28-8.5 and ran the 200-meter dash in 28.51 seconds.

The next day, Yost leaped 14-10.5 in the long jump, took 11th in the javelin with a distance of 90-5 and was 24th in the 800 meters.

In cross country, Brentwood School junior James Kahn won the Brentwood Invitational and placed 48th in 16:47.6 in the Division V boys race to help the Eagles finish 10th in the team standings at the state meet in Fresno.

Golfer Bryant Falconello not only won  the CIF Southern Section Northern Regional title, he also led Loyola High to its fourth straight division championship.

Pali High’s Jed Moscot was named Pitcher of the Year in the Western League and earned All-City Division I honors. Photo: Steve Galluzzo
Jed Moscot

After leading Pali High’s boys team to its third consecutive City golf title, Ray Yang qualified for the AJGA ClubCorp Mission Hills Desert Junior. Maury Marin finished third at league finals as Pali High’s girls team qualified for the City finals for the first time.

It was a milestone year on the diamond for Jon and Jed Moscot. In June, Jon pitched six innings to earn his first major league victory in the Cincinnati Reds’ 5-2 triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies. Jed, meanwhile, was voted Pitcher of the Year in the Western League and made the All-City Division I team. He allowed only two earned runs with 40 strikeouts in his first 33 innings and threw a one-hitter with nine strikeouts in Palisades’ shutout of Sylmar in the wildcard playoffs.

Matt McGeagh had a standout season at Loyola High, batting .403 with 32 hits and three home runs. He was chosen team MVP and made the All-Mission League first team.

Horseback riding is Kaitlyn Van Konynenburg’s passion and she pinned on many blue ribbons for Balmoral Farm. At the HITS Thermal Show in Coachella Valley she won the Large Junior Hunters and was reserve champion in the Small Junior Hunters Division. At the Blenheim Spring Classic II Show in San Juan Capistrano, she won titles on three different horses. In July, the 17-year-old rode “Wish List” to the U.S. Junior Hunter National Championship.

Defender Ali Riley kicked her Swedish club soccer squad to the league championship and helped the New Zealand women’s national team upset upset Brazil 1-0 in Sao Paulo. Photo courtesy of New Zealand Soccer
Ali Riley

Huntington resident Nicki Schindler was a key member of the California Yacht Club’s junior rowing team that traveled to the USA Youth National Championships in Florida.

Schindler and Bridget O’Callahan were third in the women’s double scull and joined Sky Karasik and Sophie Hart to take sixth in the quadruple scull. At regionals, Schindler and O’Callahan took gold in the women’s double and joined Karasik and Hart for silver in the quad.

In boys lacrosse, Nate Galper (46 goals, 60 assists) was named City MVP and Pali High teammate Macchio Rissone (68 goals, 27 assists) was Offensive Player of the Year.

The Pali High girls soccer team won another league title thanks to leading scorers Kaitlyn Parcell and Hannah De Silva, who both garnered Western League and All-City honors. Parcell paced the Dolphins with 42 points (13 goals and 16 assists) while De Silva tallied a team-high 15 goals and also ran cross country and track.

Courtney O’Brien captained the  Harvard-Westlake High soccer  team to its fourth straight league title and collected a few individual accolades along the way. She made the All-CIF Southern Section Division I first team and was selected Offensive MVP in the Mission League after leading the Wolverines in scoring with 16 goals and 18 assists, finishing her spectacular prep career with 63 goals and 31 assists.

Still competing at age 91, Lee Calvert won two medals in table tennis at the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah. Photo: Steve Galluzzo
Lee Calvert

Pali High junior Dane Elkins rocketed up the racquetball rankings, winning the Boys 16s and Boys 18s divisions at the World Outdoor Championships in Huntington Beach two weeks after reaching the blue division 16-and-under singles final, the 16s doubles final and the 16s mixed doubles final at the National Junior Olympics in Stockton. Elkins also won the men’s A division and made the Elite finals at the Simi Valley St. Valentine Shootout.

Lee Calvert is proof that age is just a number, as the 91-year-old Optimist Club member won the gold medal in the 80-and-over singles division and added silver in the 85-and-over mixed doubles division in table tennis at the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah.

Hours of practice paid off for 14-year-old skater Grace Koplin, who flew to France with her Los Angeles Ice Theater team to compete in the Nations Cup, the world’s premiere Ballet on Ice event.

It was checkered flags on the track for Townsend Bell, who battled to the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s GT-Daytona series title with driving partner Bill Sweedler. They were third in their class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Bell was 14th at the Indy 500.

Curt Toppel made a triumphant return to volleyball, pairing with Mark Burik to win the Santa Barbara Open and take fifth place at the Manhattan Beach Open.

Daniel Leonard led St. Matthew’s to the Pacific Basin League soccer title and also excelled in volleyball. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Daniel Leonard

Will Bantle and Tanner Woods won the U19 title at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships and Bantle’s Southern California Volleyball Club 17 Quiksilver team won the Open Division gold title at the Junior Nationals in Ohio.

Libero Matt Douglas was named Mission League Player of the Year and defensive MVP at Loyola High and made the AVCA High School Senior All-America squad and the Youth National team.

Pali High’s Shane Stoklos earned Player of the Year honors after spiking the Dolphins to the City title in the spring.

Archer School for Girls setter Zoe Pelikan broke the school assists mark in leading the Panthers to first in the Liberty League, two tournament titles and the CIF semifinals.

Daniel Leonard, son of Hall of Fame boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, led Pacific Palisades Volleyball Club’s 14 Nike team to Junior Nationals, scored the deciding goal for St. Matthew’s in the Pacific Basin League soccer final and led the Falcons to the Delphic League volleyball title.